3 health care reforms that Republicans oppose

Doctor with a stethoscope in the hands on white background

One year into the coronavirus pandemic, Arizona has suffered greatly, but the chance for vaccination gives us some hope. The sheer scale of the sickness – over 800,000 cases in our state, resulting in over 56,000 people hospitalized, and more than 15,000 dead – has revealed some shortcomings in our public health system, in and many cases it has made those shortcomings worse.

As a state senator, I worked with my fellow legislators and with Healthcare Rising Arizona to address those shortcomings. We offered three bills to chart out improvements in our health care system, addressing both access to care and the cost of care, as well as taking steps to safeguard the health and safety of the healthcare professionals who have worked hard for a solid year of stress and struggle.

I am sorry to report that even with the coronavirus pandemic raging, Arizona’s Legislature failed to hold a single hearing on one of the three urgent bills we championed. Even more worrisome, neither health committee passed a bill related to the pandemic. Last week, the deadline for holding hearings on bills passed.

The three bills that we introduced in Arizona’s Legislature can make a real difference in people’s lives.

First off, over this past year, Arizona health care workers have been heroes. They need protective equipment, and shouldn’t have to pay for it out of their own pockets. They deserve paid sick time if they get infected. They deserve hazard pay for what they’ve been through and the tremendous sacrifices they’ve made.

The Healthcare Heroes Bill of Rights (HB2842), sponsored by Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, myself and 17 others, would have done just that. Melody is an emergency medical technician and knows what health care workers have been through over the past year. Her bill would protect health care workers who perform Covid essential functions by providing them with personal protective equipment, hazard pay, whistleblower protections, and paid sick leave for any worker who cannot work due to a Covid diagnosis. Nineteen legislators have already signed on in support of the bill.

Juan Mendez
Juan Mendez

Medical debt is also a huge issue for hundreds of thousands of Arizona families. The bill that I offered, the Reduce Medical Debt Act (SB1796), would protect consumers who are struggling with medical debt. The legislation shields homes and most vehicles from seizure by debt collectors, and increases the amount of time before a medical debt can show up on a consumer’s credit report.

The third bill we offered would ensure that no one is denied care because of a pre-existing condition or an annual or lifetime cap on the cost of care. People with employer-provided health insurance do not have this worry, but Arizonans who have bought the “short-term limited duration” plans that are legal in this state do. Imagine paying your health insurance premium every month, and then learning only after you get sick that your plan doesn’t cover the care you need.

That’s why the Healthcare Bill of Rights (HB2739), sponsored by Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, ensures that health insurance plans cannot reject patients with so-called pre-existing conditions, or charge them unaffordable rates for that coverage. These protections extend to the so-called “short-term limited duration,” requires all plans sold in Arizona to offer essential medical benefits, and bans annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

We offered these bills in the spirit of advancing public health and looking out for Arizona families. Sadly, Republicans refused to even hold a hearing on even one of these bills. But there’s still hope, because Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, or Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, could bring any of these bills to the floor of the House or Senate.

I hope they do.

Sen. Juan Mendez of Tempe, a Democrat, represents Legislative District 26.

4 GOP lawmakers align with Democrats to kill tax cuts for veterans


State senators on Tuesday rejected the one tax break sought by Gov. Doug Ducey in his State of the State speech.

Four Republicans lined up with the 13 Senate Democrats to quash the idea of exempting military pensions from the state’s income tax.

None of the Republicans explained their decision during the vote. But Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is pushing an alternate set of tax breaks, ones that would give broader relief to individuals and businesses.

“I generally oppose carve outs,” he told Capitol Media Services after the vote.

Sen. David Farnsworth, of Mesa expressed similar sentiments.

David Farnsworth
David Farnsworth

“When we make policies they need to be broad and affect everybody,” he said. “Any time we carve out any segment it shifts the load to everyone else.”

Ducey press aide Patrick Ptak said his boss is not deterred by Tuesday’s vote – or the fact that four members of his own party refused to go along.

“Because this is included in the governor’s budget package, our expectation is that it will be enacted as part of the final budget rather than as a stand-alone bill,” he said.

Tuesday’s vote is the second setback in a week for the governor in getting the priorities from his State of the State speech enacted.

Late last week Ducey had to give up on his call for lawmakers to put a provision into the Arizona Constitution forbidding cities from having policies which preclude law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials. The governor found himself not only short of votes but facing opposition from the business community concerned about how putting such a measure on the November ballot would affect the state’s image and its ability to land conventions and conferences.

Arizona law currently exempts the first $3,500 of any military pension from state income tax. Ducey proposed removing that cap entirely — at a cost to the state of $43 million a year — calling it a matter of economic development.

“We have a goal: to make Arizona home base for veterans everywhere in the country,” he said.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu, who retired from the Marines after more than 20 years, echoed that theme Tuesday in trying to line up the votes for SB 1237.

“This encourages these vets to stay here, lay down roots, move and escape from other crazy states like what I did from California,” he said. And Borrelli said this isn’t necessarily a net loss of taxes to the state.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)
Sonny Borrelli

“I bought a house,” he said.

“I paid property taxes which goes to my local school,” Borrelli continued. “Everything I spent was taxed and went to the local community and even to the state” in sales taxes.

But Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, said she doesn’t see it that way.

In fact, she argued, cutting revenues actually can work against those who have retired from the military. She said that means less money going into the education of people who will provide them the health care they will need.

“That is really more important to me that they have someone to take care of them,” Dalessandro said.

And Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock, said the proposal would benefit only those with military pensions, not anyone who is a veteran. More to the point, she said it actually helps only those who retired as officers – with higher pensions.

Borrelli effectively conceded the point.

He said the average rank for an enlisted person after 20 years in the military is E-7, with a pension of less than $24,000 a year.

What makes that number significant is that Arizona already provides a $12,000 deduction from income for single people and $24,000 for couples. So that means an enlisted person who is married already has an exemption equal to his or her military pension.

What that leaves, Borrelli said, are folks like retired lieutenant colonels.

Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, the prime sponsor of the legislation, told colleagues they need to look at the issue through more than the lens of lost state revenues.

“I’ve not served in the military at all,” he said.

“I do sponsor this bill in tribute to (those who) actually go out and sign their name on a dotted line to say, ‘I am willing to die for your freedoms today,’ ” Gowan said. “We can give back to them.”

Anyway, he said, they earned their pension not in Arizona but abroad, though there is nothing in the proposal specifying where they served and whether it was overseas.

Gowan is not giving up, using a procedural maneuver that would allow him to make another bid to line up the 16 votes in the 30-member chamber to resurrect the issue.


Arizona Senate backs charter oversight legislation

Arizona charter schools oppose more state regulation

Republicans in the Arizona Senate voted Thursday to impose new rules in charter schools over the objections of Democrats who said the legislation doesn’t do enough to end problems.

The legislation was prompted by news reports about instances of charter operators enriching themselves, falling short academically or failing financially.

Democrats said the legislation was written by the charter industry and gives the false impression that the Legislature has resolved problems with charter schools.

“This is just so frustrating,” said Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, a Democrat from Green Valley. “It is merely an illusion of doing something. It has no teeth in it, and I think we’re just disappointing the voters that have asked us to do reform.”

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee disagreed, acknowledging the bill “does not solve every problem in the charter spectrum” but saying it’s a compromise that makes improvements. The Legislature can’t go too far in erasing the flexibility that defines charters, she said.

“We need to preserve school choice,” said Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who sponsored the legislation.

Brophy McGee’s bill would limit the number of family members that can serve on a charter board and require disclosure of contracts with companies owned by board members. It also would give the attorney general more authority to investigate questionable purchasing decisions.

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, a Gilbert Republican who made millions selling his for-profit charter school to a nonprofit organization, said the legislation was not needed, though he voted for it anyway.

He said he and other charter operators are the victims of anti-charter activists who want to impose their agenda.

He said critics misunderstand the point of charters, which he says is that they not be governed like district schools.

“I don’t think this bill is necessary because I don’t think there are major broken issues with charter schools,” Farnsworth said.

He lashed out The Arizona Republic, which has reported aggressively on the charter industry and Farnsworth’s nonprofit conversion.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to put additional restrictions into the legislation, including a ban on new for-profit charters and a limit on the amount of money that can go to a so-called charter management organization.

Critics say some charter operators have issued no-bid management contracts to companies they own.

Democratic lawmaker begins bid for House speaker ahead of election

Wooden judges gavel with a shiny brass band resting upright on a wooden base, close up low angle view with focus to the head of the gavel on a dark background with copyspace

A slate of Democrats has announced its bid for leadership of the state House of Representatives, solidifying long-swirling Capitol rumors about a challenge to current House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez.

Rep. Diego Espinoza, a Democrat from Tolleson, went public September 9 with his ambitions to run for House speaker should his party take a majority in the chamber come November, rolling out a slick website and a lengthy vision statement for his newly formed Democratic Unity Caucus.

Espinoza’s team, which includes Rep. Jennifer Longdon of Phoenix as majority leader and Sen. Andrea Dalessandro of Green Valley as whip, is running on a platform of internal reforms that the three lawmakers say are necessary if Democrats want to be a successful governing party next year. In addition to pledging improved communication and party unity, Espinoza promises to expand the Legislature’s role in budgeting, create a committee to address indigenous peoples’ issues and deliver on longstanding policy goals like education funding and expanded access to health care.

“For the first time in more than half a century, the Democratic Party has the opportunity to control a majority of one or both Arizona State legislative chambers,” Espinoza tweeted. “In order to unwrite AZ’s dark history and write a bright future, we need to be bold, we need to be unapologetic, but most importantly, we need to be united.”

That the word “unity” appears 32 times in the ticket’s 12-page vision is no accident. Newfound Democratic success in the Legislature has come with its share of growing pains, as lawmakers struggle to figure out whom the party should listen to, how it should articulate its goals and what courtesy it owes the Republican majority.

Fernandez’s solutions to these quandaries haven’t always gone over well, and a loose faction of lawmakers frustrated with her leadership has formed behind Espinoza.

Diego Espinoza
Diego Espinoza

“We know that to be successful, we cannot create a top-down leadership structure. Instead, our goal is to ensure that all members, regardless of seniority, are heard,” the leadership document reads. That means respecting voting records of individual members that may go against the grain, and fostering “a mutual understanding and respect for what makes each legislative district unique.”

Above all, however, it seems to suggest a need for greater transparency and communication.

“It’s no secret that the House Democratic caucus is very divided,” said Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, who supports Espinoza. “The big thing this team brings is really an attempt to say we’re going to leave all that BS behind.”

Hernandez and others have in private and in public criticized Fernandez’s leadership style, which they say leaves Democrats who are out of her good graces in the dark, leading to divided votes and missed opportunities for collaboration, even with the GOP. That became apparent in the primaries, when a batch of candidates with support from a prominent labor attorney challenged incumbent Democrats with ties to Fernandez, creating an opportunity for her critics to highlight both procedural and political challenges, ranging from a lack of development and guidance for freshmen lawmakers to a failure to deliver on legislation important to key Democratic constituencies.

Espinoza said his run isn’t meant as a direct criticism of Fernandez’s leadership, and suggested that the divides within the caucus – ideological, personal, whatever – are simply “areas of opportunity that we can expand on and improve upon internally and externally.”

Fernandez of Yuma, who is also vying for House speaker, is not rushing to match her opponent’s efforts.

“To me, it’s an issue of putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “Our goal is to get to the majority.”

And that’s her main pitch to the members: she has presided over a period of success for Democrats, and hopes to continue that streak even further. No public roll-out is needed to drive that message across.

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

“What I can tell you is we went from 23 (Democratic members) when I started to 29. That speaks volumes,” she said.

She challenged criticism that her team didn’t do enough to communicate or make Democrats feel included, suggesting that perhaps some of her critics within the party just aren’t paying attention.

“You’re not going to hear what kind of communications are going on if you’re not there,” she said. “We show up.”

Though the Democratic Party has political wings, Espinoza’s bid isn’t exactly ideological. Dalessandro, who is counting on cruising to election in the House after vacating the Legislative District 2 Senate seat, is one of the Senate’s most progressive members in addition to being one of the most experienced Democrats, something she said could allow her to navigate those wings easily.

“I think I can heal some of those divides,” she said. “I have good relationships.”

Just because the new leadership ticket isn’t grouped by ideology doesn’t mean there is not an ideological component to this alignment. Espinoza and many of the dozen-or-so lawmakers who announced support for his bid have received campaign support from business and charter school groups, while Fernandez and her team – which now includes Rep. Reginald Bolding of Laveen as majority leader and Rep. Raquel Teran of Phoenix as whip – enjoy close relationships with progressive advocacy organizations like Living United for Change in Arizona.

In explaining his support for the new ticket, Hernandez said that Democrats have to appeal to suburban moms in the East Valley as much as they have to take input from LUCHA if they want to take the majority.

“We can have all these conversations that we want, but it doesn’t matter if we can’t deliver 31 votes,” he said.

Fernandez doesn’t think that will be a problem.

“Unity is not just a word on a piece of paper,” she said.

GOP bill would restrict vote-by-mail options

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, stands at her desk on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives, before a vote to expel Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Ugenti-Rita’s allegations of sexual harassment by Shooter led a host of women and one man to air similar allegations against him. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Ignoring the testimony of county election officials, Republican lawmakers voted to bar Arizona voters who receive their ballot by mail from turning them in by hand.

On party lines, the four GOP senators on the chamber’s Judiciary Committee advanced SB 1046, which would restrict how voters who sign up for the Permanent Early Voting List, known as PEVL, can cast a ballot. Current law allows them to return those ballots by mail, or hand-deliver them to election facilities at any time leading up to or on election day.

Some voters like to wait until the last minute – 228,000 mail-in ballots were dropped off at polling sites on the day of the 2018 general election, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita said eliminating those so-called “late-early” ballots will help speed up the announcement of election results, and would temper frustrations from the 2018 election, when several races were too close to call for more than a week after election day.

County officials testified that the Scottsdale Republican’s logic is flawed.

Whether they’re mailed in or not, people like holding onto their ballots as long as possible, said Jennifer Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, so ballots mailed at the last possible second would still pile up on election day, too.

“The counties believe voters should have the opportunity to turn in that ballot regardless of when they received that ballot,” Marson said.

If more voters use the alternative provided in Ugenti-Rita’s proposal by voting in person on election day, in the event they forget to mail their ballots back on time, voters could experience longer lines at the polls and more costly elections, said Rivko Knox of the Arizona League of Women Voters.

That’s really all beside the point, Knox said, because the bill is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. While Republicans have complained that ballots took too long to count, recorders took roughly the same amount of time to count votes in 2014, 2012, and other elections, Knox said.

“The difference was that several elections were very close,” she said, meaning competitive races highlighted the vote-county process. Many of those close races resulted in victories for Democrats to key statewide offices, even after initial vote tallies on election night favored some Republican candidates.

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman said there is one scenario in which Ugenti-Rita’s bill would speed up the vote-counting process.

“It might save time by reducing turnout,” Hoffman said. “We don’t want that.”

That’s when Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, a Gilbert Republican and chair of the Judiciary Committee, cut off Hoffman’s testimony, calling it “unfounded speculation.”

Ugenti-Rita later dismissed the criticisms of the county election officials as beyond their purview.

“This is a policy discussion,” and it’s well within the Legislature’s right to set the rules for how recorders conduct elections, Ugenti-Rita said. “For them to say it’s not a good piece of legislation and it’s disenfranchising voters, that’s really beyond their scope.”

The committee’s three Democrats criticized the bill for ignoring the expert advice of officials who conduct the elections. In addition to failing to produce more timely election results, Sen. Martin Quezada cited testimony that the policy change would sow confusion among voters.

“We’re taking away an option that’s used a lot because we simply don’t like it,” the Phoenix Democrat said. “We haven’t even identified that we’re solving the problems the sponsor is trying to solve.”

Farnsworth said that Arizona voters will still have ample opportunity to vote.

“We already give both options,” Farnsworth said, referring to the state’s dual system of mail-in ballots and day-of voting. “We’re just suggesting, choose one or the other.”

Republicans also approved another Ugenti-Rita to bill that requires voters to produce ID to cast ballots at in-person early voting sites. Current law only requires ID to vote on the day of the election – early ballots, whether cast in person or by mail, have historically used a voter’s signature as their ID.

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Tucson, said she feared SB 1072 would disenfranchise older and low-income voters who might not have access to a traditional driver’s license for identification.

Democrats and Republicans did find one bill to agree on.

SB 1072, also sponsored by Ugenti-Rita, would create uniform standard for all 15 counties in Arizona when allowing voters to “cure” their ballot and ensure it’s counted.

As approved, the bill only provides a curing process for early ballots with missing or “illegible” signatures during a period of five business days after an election. Ugenti-Rita expressed willingness to amend it and provide opportunities to cure a vote if there’s an issue with the signature beyond legibility.

Judge lets Arizona law on initiative petitions to stand

court decisions binders

A federal judge on Monday refused to strike down an Arizona law that allows a judge to invalidate otherwise legitimate and qualified signatures on an initiative petition.

In a 19-page ruling, Judge Susan Bolton acknowledged that the 2014 statute could make it more difficult for those proposing their own laws and constitutional amendments to put their proposals before voters.

But Bolton said challengers did not present enough evidence, at least not yet, to show that allowing it to remain in effect presents irreparable harm, either to voters or those who hope to propose future ballot measures. So, for the moment, the law and its hurdles will remain on the books – and likely will be in place as groups start submitting petitions for issues to go to voters in 2020.

The law, which passed without significant debate, spells out that paid circulators and those who do not live in Arizona must first register with the Secretary of State or their signatures collected do not count.

But the significant provision deals with the ability of those trying to keep a measure off the ballot to subpoena circulators to appear in court to verify both their own eligibility and how they gathered the signatures. Specifically, what’s been dubbed the Strikeout Law says that if any circulator who has to register does not show up, then all the signatures that person gathered can be struck, potentially leaving the petition drive short of its goal.

Not An Academic Issue

The ruling comes as Arizonans for Fair Lending, one of the groups that filed suit, is circulating petitions asking voters in 2020 to cap interest rates on auto title loans at no more than 36 percent annual interest. Current laws allow lenders to charge more than 200 percent.

Rodd McLeod, campaign manager for the effort, said the decision allowing the law to remain on the books, at least for the time being, will make it more difficult to get the 237,645 valid signatures needed by July 2 to qualify for the ballot.

“This Strikeout Law is a gift to out-of-state corporations like predatory lenders,” he said. “It allows them to hijack our democracy and allow people the right to vote to lower interest rates.”

The 2014 law already has kept one measure off the ballot.

Voters did not get to decide last year on the “Outlaw Dark Money” initiative, which sought to put a provision in the Arizona Constitution to require any group seeking to influence a political race or ballot measure to reveal the identity of anyone who contributed more than $10,000.

In that case, challengers issued subpoenas for 15 circulators. When none appeared, the judge disqualified the 8,824 signatures they had collected, leaving the petition drive short.

The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the law and the decision to keep the measure off the ballot, ruling that the statute “furthers the constitutional purpose of the initiative process by ensuring the integrity of signature gathering by reasonable means.”

That led to this new lawsuit, with attorney Sarah Gonski telling Bolton that the law “unconstitutionally discourages the people of Arizona … from exercising their fundamental right to make law without consulting the Legislature.”

For example, Gonski argued, the requirement could reduce the number of people available to circulate initiative petitions. She said that groups seeking to change the law would be reluctant to hire paid circulators from outside the Phoenix metro area for fear they would not show up in court, with the result of all their signatures being tossed.

Bolton disagreed. “There is insufficient evidence of a ‘chilling’ effect,” she wrote.

The judge was more willing to consider the argument that organizations pushing initiative measures will have to gather more than the minimum number of signatures required for fear some would be thrown out.

“Ballot-access measures like the Strikeout Law can restrict political speech,” Bolton said. But she said that challengers to this point “have simply failed to show facts or circumstances demonstrating such restrictive effect.”

Lawmakers Exempt

Bolton also showed interest in the fact that the legislators who approved the law on disqualification of signatures applied it only to ballot measures and not to nominating petitions for themselves and other elected officials.

Attorneys for the state argued that distinction is merited, citing the Voter Protection Act. That constitutional provision says once a measure is approved at the ballot box it cannot be repealed by the Legislature but instead must be taken back to voters.

But Bolton said that hurdle, by itself, is not enough to warrant the difference.

“The ‘near permanency’ of an initiative once passed is more of a legal outcome than a compelling government interest justifying (the state’s) chosen method of incentivizing subpoena compliance,” the judge wrote.

Still, none of that was enough for Bolton to grant Gonski’s motion to bar the state from enforcing the law at the next election.

She said challengers had failed to show they would suffer “irreparable harm” – one of the standards a court uses to determine whether to issue an injunction – if the law remains in effect. In fact, the judge noted, at least two of the groups that sued, Arizonans for Fair Lending and NextGen Climate Action, have provided no evidence that they will be deterred from conducting future campaigns in Arizona while the law remains in effect.

Because the lawsuit challenges an election law the defendant in the case is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

She actually voted for the measure when she was a state senator in 2014. In fact, all but two Senate Democrats supported it: Andrea Dalessandro of Green Valley and Robert Meza of Phoenix.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comment from a spokesman for Arizonans for Fair Lending. 

Lawmakers to look at shifting Santa Cruz, Cochise county lines


Despite being rebuffed by her colleagues, a Southern Arizona lawmaker has found a new way to pursue her plans to see if parts of Santa Cruz County should be merged with Cochise County.

Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, has convinced legislative leaders to form a special committee to study what would happen if the line between the two counties was moved. Griffin has specifically been interested in moving the Sonoita and Elgin areas of Santa Cruz County into Cochise.

The goal of that committee is exactly what was behind Griffin’s HB 2486 which she shepherded through the House earlier this year on a 31-29 party-line vote.

But the measure died when Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, convinced several Republicans to join with Democrats and oppose it on financial grounds, citing what could happen to what would remain of Santa Cruz County if part of its tax base was stripped away.

Gail Griffin
Gail Griffin

“The remaining ranchers in the rest of the county, who are mostly Republicans, will be paying more property tax,” she told colleagues.”Ditto, she said, of the produce industry that is centered in Nogales and Rio Rico.”

But Griffin told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday she still believes the study is necessary “to surface the issues the local community has so they can be addressed.”

“Lots of discussion will take place to help provide solutions for the citizens in the area,” she said.

Dalessandro, for her part, said she was “disappointed” in the decision of the Republican legislative leadership to form the study committee, particularly in the wake of the defeat of legislation that would have done the same thing.

In proposing the original legislation, Griffin said that residents of the eastern portion of Santa Cruz County “feel that they’re not treated fairly and not getting the attention that they would like.”

“They seem to think that they have more in common with the adjoining county,” she said.

Many of the complaints, Griffin told colleagues, are coming from residents of the Sonoita area.

Among the issue is that the justice of the peace court, formerly located in the community, was moved to Nogales in what county officials said was a money-saving move. Griffin said roads also are an issue as are increasing taxes.

“And not being able to communicate,” she said.

Dalessandro, however, questioned whether there really are such widespread problems to pursue the unusual step of moving a county line.

“I suspect that it is just a small group of vocal people that want this annexation,” she said.

Dalessandro said she is looking to survey the resident of her district – both inside the area that might be split off and what would remain of the rest of the county – to gauge their feelings.

But Griffin said she thinks the idea is more popular than does Dalessandro.

“The meetings I attended were standing room only,” she said. And Griffin said that area residents “feel they have more in common with Cochise County.”

That, however, raises another question: Does Cochise County want to take in all of those people and be responsible for providing services to them.

Several of the non-legislative members of the committee appear to represent those who have been actively pushing for county boundary realignment. That includes both the chair and a member of the Sonoita-Elgin Community Group.

But the committee does include Dalessandro along with some what would generally be considered neutral participants. One of those is Jennifer Stielow, vice president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, which tends to lobby against any measure that will increase property taxes, particularly for businesses.

The committee is supposed to report its findings back to legislative leaders at the end of 2020.

Even if the majority supports changing the county boundaries, that, by itself, is legally meaningless. Only the Legislature can authorize such a change.

And even if there is a sentiment for such a move, there are a host of other issues that need to be resolved.

The most significant of these would be financial, ranging from who gets possession of what pieces of Santa Cruz County equipment and property to how to divide up any debt.

Griffin said there are other issues to be considered, including whether a change in county lines will lead to increased economic opportunities and improved marketing of agricultural products.

In a statement released Tuesday, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker, whose district includes the affected area, said he doesn’t believe that realigning the county boundaries is the answer.

“A tremendous amount of effort and resources are being spent by those that would have us be divided,” he said. “I would prefer to see that attention and resources focused on addressing the issues of our community to find solutions that are a benefit to all and unite us, not divide us.”

Bracker said that “constructive criticism is always welcome” with a promise to address the concerns of all parts of the county.

“We have so much going for us at this time and we could use the help in leveraging our economic development to attract new and diverse investment, create permanent jobs and help our local businesses grow,” he said.

The decision to form the legislative committee actually was made last week without publicity. But Matt Specht, press aide to Bowers, said there was no attempt to hide it from the public.

“We typically don’t put out press releases on ad hoc committees until the details of the first meeting have been set,” he said. And Specht said that it appears that the committee won’t convene until sometime in late October.